The Brazilian Air Force’s First Female Fighter Jet Pilot Flies Presidential Airplane

The Brazilian Air Force’s First Female Fighter Jet Pilot Flies Presidential Airplane

By Taciana Moury/Diálogo
March 31, 2017

Aircraft Pilot Captain Carla Alexandre Borges is a symbol of female presence in the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym). A member of the first class of women at the Air Force Academy (AFA, per its Portuguese acronym) in 2003, her career has continued to be a series of firsts. She was the first female Brazilian pilot to fly an A-1 jet fighter, and since the end of 2016, she has become the first woman to fly Brazil’s presidential aircraft. “It’s both an honor and a responsibility to transport the president of Brazil, our country’s highest authority,” said Capt. Carla. Flying an Airbus A-319 is very different from flying fighter aircraft. “While transporting public officials, the goal is to ensure a calm, careful flight, avoiding all types of disturbances or turbulence, since the official is often working on board,” she explained. Capt. Carla earned her wings on this aircraft after 150 hours of training flights, and 60 hours on simulator missions. She was selected by a council made up of members of the Special Transport Group to fly the presidential aircraft. “Whenever an opening comes up, applicants apply and go before the council,” she added. A girl’s childhood dream Being a military pilot was her childhood dream. Growing up in Jundiaí, a town in upstate São Paulo, Capt. Carla loved going to the city’s flying club to watch flights, and she had a room full of posters and miniature airplanes. “I’ve always loved aviation, but what I wanted the most was to be a fighter pilot. Back in the day, there weren’t any female pilots in FAB, but when the first class of women was admitted, I was right there with them,” she recalled. It took many years of dedication and study to make her fighter pilot dream a reality. Capt. Carla studied for four years at AFA in Pirassununga, where she piloted the T-25 and T-27. She went on to Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, spending one year completing the basic fighter pilot course. Only then was she assigned to the First Squadron of the Third Aviation Group (1º/3º GAv, per its Portuguese acronym) in Boa Vista, in the north of Brazil, where she began flying a Super Tucano turboprop. “The mission of the 1º/3º GAv is to protect Brazil’s airspace along the border. I took part in all kinds of air defense operations in the squadron, like Ágata and Cruzex. But my focus was to progress as a fighter pilot,” she said. The goal was to pilot a front-line aircraft. In her case, the A-1, with speeds of up to 900 km/hour, missile-carrying capacity, and 30-mm ammunition. To get there, then-Lieutenant Carla had to complete a two-year squadron leadership course. “It’s a prerequisite being part of a front-line squadron, leading up to four fighter aircraft,” Capt. Carla explained. After completing the course, she was transferred to the First Squadron of the 16th Aviation Group (1º/16º GAv per its Portuguese acronym) at the Santa Cruz Air Base in Rio de Janeiro, to enroll in the A-1 aircraft course. The 1º/16º GAv required even more of the captain’s dedication, with physical preparation and lots of studying. “Powerful aircraft like the A-1 require detailed planning before every flight since the speed demands their pilots to make quick decisions,” she explained. The pilots have to deal with G-forces (caused by the aircraft’s acceleration) up to six times their body weight. Eight years after graduation, in May of 2011, Capt. Carla made her dream a reality by taking her first solo flight on a FAB A-1 jet. Even now, she still recalls the thrill of that flight, which departed from the Santa Cruz Air Base in Rio de Janeiro. “I made my lifelong dream come true of piloting the most modern fighter jet in operation in my country. Flying a fighter jet is a unique sensation of freedom and power. It was a really important stage that I completed in my life,” she emphasized. Capt. Carla’s career path has served as an example, as well as encouragement for other women who have decided to follow in her footsteps. She is proud to know that she has contributed to the solidification of women’s roles in FAB. “A lot of barriers have been brought down since 2003 when the path was opened for women in aviation within FAB. A lot of women are on this path and others will continue to follow. It’s an enthralling profession but it takes a lot of focus and dedication,” she noted. Women in the Brazilian Armed Forces FAB leads the way in female personnel in comparison to the other services. Women make up 16 percent of the Air Force; 10 percent of the Navy; and 4.2 percent of the Army. According to Ministry of Defense data, there are 28,512 women serving in the Armed Forces. To address these differences and expand policy for women in military professions, the ministry set up the Ministry of Defense Gender Commission (CGMD per its Portuguese acronym) in 2014. The commission has direct ties to UN Women – an entity created by the United Nations to encourage gender equality and empower women – in Brasilia and actively promotes expansion and gender equality in the Armed Forces. According to R1 Brigadier General Antônio Carlos Alves Coutinho, the head of the CGMD, Brazil is still one of the last countries in the world, in all areas of operation, to open opportunities for women. “In the three Americas, Brazil is the country with the most restrictions on female participation in the Armed Forces, especially with regard to ‘combat-related’ tasks. In almost every other country, the condition for entry and progress in a career is determined by individual skill and merit,” he said. In 2017, the top two military academies of the Brazilian Air Force and Army began accepting women: the Preparatory School of Air Cadets in Barbacena, in the state of Minas Gerais, and the Army Cadet Preparatory School (EsPCEx, per its Portuguese acronym), in Resende, Rio de Janeiro. Brig. Gen. Coutinho emphasized that opening new ways for women to be admitted represents a step in the right direction but there is still much to improve upon. “The Armed Forces set quotas for women at the institution, keeping more women from joining. For example, at EsPCEx, of the 440 spots available, only 40 were set aside for women,” he said. Brig. Gen. Coutinho explained that CGMD tries to combat prejudice with scientific approaches and demonstrations of positive results in other countries. He noted that the number of women in the Armed Forces has increased but the commission’s goal is to knock down all barriers to female entry. “A woman’s place is wherever she wants to be. If a woman wants to be in the infantry, to lead a warship, or to fly combat aircraft, then that possibility should be allowed,” he said. He thinks that, regardless of gender, whoever passes the selection process established by the service branch to perform a task is qualified to join. “The day we accomplish that, the CGMD can be shut down because it will be proof that women are no longer being discriminated against in the military.”
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